As I get ready for Dr. Evan’s forum at Rosa Parks tonight at 5 pm, I’m thinking about charter schools as a reform strategy. As Dr. Evans explained last week, Paterson does not have the authority to give any group a charter. Currently, only the New Jersey Department of Education can do that. However, Dr. Evans had experience in Florida where charters can be given by local education authorities. So while Dr. Evans and the board cannot create a charter, they can seek a cooperative relationship.
Dr. Evans favors working with charters for the flexibility they provide. He talked about the partnership being created with the new charter application from Rutgers to create a virtual charter school. The virtual school would provide services for students through technology. It would be able to serve disaffected students who cannot adopt to the routines of a typical high school. It could also be able to serve the needs of gifted students who want more advanced courses than their local district provides. Dr. Evans also discussed the possibility of working with charters who focus on special populations, like autism.
The reality we must keep in mind, is that charters are not silver bullets. According to experts, only 20% of charters outperform local schools on standardized tests. The most rigorous school may be your local school or magnet school. For example, Rosa Parks High School for the Performing Arts outperforms all other high schools in Paterson, including charters on the HSPA math test.
There are many other strategies included in Dr. Evans’ plans for the next year. I’ll be talking more about them as the forums continue.